If you’re looking for fifteen-year-old Emma Flynn-Mantyla, you can probably find her on the ice rink playing ringette. This fiery spirit is a talented teenager with a personality that definitely isn’t suited for the sidelines. While the heart-pounding adrenaline of team sports might leave some dizzy, Emma embraces and thrives in chaos. It is clear that years spent in frosty arenas have cultivated a sense of self-assuredness that comes in handy; especially when Emma found herself facing off against a very tough opponent.
In the fall of 2017, downtime was basically a foreign concept between school, homework, friends and practice. So when Emma’s left leg started to hurt, her family was concerned, but ever on-the-go they pushed through what they thought were familiar growing pains. There was no way to know that they had entered an unfamiliar territory.
As their oldest girl became increasingly thin and lethargic her family knew that something wasn’t right. Weeks of doctors’ appointments saw no diagnosis or explanation for Emma’s debilitating pain that “felt like someone was breaking my bones every day,” as she remembers. She was in the grip of a mysterious illness, but her bloodwork at the time — all within normal levels — gave very little insight.
They needed an answer. Eventually they would get one.
“Get Emma to CHEO now,” mom Peggy heard from their family doctor as she watched her daughter skate around the ice. Lab work and tests had slowly started to paint a picture of the battle that her body was fighting. An exhausted Emma went from the thrill of her favourite sport straight to CHEO’s Emergency Department for a diagnosis that finally came: pre B-Cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Emma had cancer.
While cancer can be a scary word, Emma and her family were only focused on beating it. Now it felt like there was a road map to recovery. This tenacious girl, constantly surrounded by love and support, was ready to go on the offense and she was ready to win. Positive thoughts peppered every moment with unwavering consistency. “Positivity was, is and always will be key,” Peggy maintains with relentless warmth.
CHEO became Emma’s second home for three weeks while she underwent the first leg of her oncology journey. There were unavoidable unpleasant experiences that Emma handled with strength and the care at CHEO was a great comfort to the whole family. With her ringette team in the Eastern Canadian Championships and no time for a detour from treatment, CHEO doctors gave her family the tools that Emma would need to safely travel to Halifax and cheer on her friends. She was in the midst of her cancer treatment and she was still determined to support her teammates — a gesture that speaks to the essence of who Emma is.
These days, Emma is getting back into the swing of things while she continues her maintenance regimen with daily oral chemotherapy, IV chemo once a month and a lumbar puncture every three months. Emma has the world at her fingertips and success, just like her beloved pug Buddy, will follow her wherever she goes. As she looks forward and manages the ups and downs of life post-diagnosis, she’s rediscovering her happy place. Yes, there will be more championships in Emma’s future, but for all that know her one thing is clear: she is already the truest of champions.